Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Ghost of a Model T and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume Three

Weaker than other volumes in the series (but still very good)
The Ghost of a Model T and Other Stories is the fifth volume I’ve read in the Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak series. I’m not reading them in numerical order, but rather just buying whichever ebooks get offered as Kindle Daily Deals. So far I’ve read and reviewed Volumes 1, 2, 7, and 8, all of which I rated five stars for excellence. Volume 3 proved to be less impressive than those other volumes. While it’s still a great collection of short stories that I enjoyed very much, I wasn’t blown away by it the way I had been by those other volumes.

That’s not to say there aren’t some exceptional stories here. The title selection, which closes the book, is likely the best of the bunch. In a tale told with great sensitivity and pathos, an aged man is picked up by a mysterious Model T that takes him on a nostalgic time travel trip. Another excellent piece is “Mirage,” about an archaeologist on Mars who meets up with some of the planet’s indigenous inhabitants. “Leg. Forst.” is a humorous tale of stamp collecting and alien visitation. “Condition of Employment” and “Founding Father” both deal with the hallucinations of space travelers, while “Byte Your Tongue!” highlights the desires of a daydreaming computer. “The Autumn Land” and “The Street That Wasn’t There” are spookier stories in which the very fabric of reality itself seems to unravel.

Also included in this collection is the story “City,” which would later be combined with several other stories to form the novel City, perhaps Simak’s best-known work. The story “City” is a tale of suburban flight run amok. On some points time has proven it prophetic, on others it’s just unrealistically exaggerated. “Physician to the Universe,” in which robots enforce a draconian system of health care, is another example of a social issue being taken to extremes. Last and also least, like other volumes in the series, this collection contains one western story, “No More Hides and Tallow.” Simak’s westerns are hit and miss, and this one is not so great, suffering from too much action without enough story to back it up.

The problem with Volume 3 may be more editorial than authorial. The contents here just seem more homogenous in style and tone than the other books in the series. Series editor David W. Wixon has not arranged Simak’s stories chronologically or thematically. Instead, each volume is just a grab bag of whatever Wixon chooses to put in, and the diversity is a big part of the fun. As you finish one story, you never know what you’re going to encounter next. With the exception of the one western, however, the selections in Volume 3 almost all seem to fall into that amorphous area of science fiction best exemplified by The Twilight Zone: strange and mysterious phenomena take place that are never satisfactorily explained or justified. The approach is more emotional than scientific, emphasizing the psychological effect on the characters. These tales are sometimes humorous, often wistful and nostalgic. The darker ones mildly touch on the horror genre, but they’re more thought-provoking than scary. What this collection really could have used is a few more examples of theoretical hard science fiction like “Mirage” mixed into the bunch.

I plan to read the entire fourteen-volume series of Simak’s complete short fiction, and I certainly don’t regret reading this one. If you’re only planning on reading a few volumes, however, I would recommend books 1, 2, 7, or 8 over this one.

Stories in this collection
Leg. Forst. 
Physician to the Universe 
No More Hides and Tallow
Condition of Employment 
The Autumn Land 
Founding Father
Byte Your Tongue! 
The Street That Wasn’t There 
The Ghost of a Model T

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